Last week, the MMA drama zeroed in on Alvey and Jay Kulina.
The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter my fellow Kingdom on Audience addicts. In order to taste the top, you have to know what dirt on your nostrils feels like. In the second to last hour of this furiously entertaining and poignant season of the Direct TV series, fights are won lives change and are lost. This episode was about great acting. Underrated acting. You won’t hear about it at the awards ceremony because it’s MMA, but it needs to be appreciated.
If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now. The rest of you, wrap your hands and follow me into the steamer.
The episode opens with Alvey Kulina rubbing and cocking his weapons. The same guns he bought in “New Money” back on October 14th now look to be going back. Is he trying to make a way for Lisa to come home? You bet. He is undoing all the suck in his life that has added up in Season 2. Did it work? Of course..not.
LISA IS MOVING TO SF
After a tense breakfast with Alvey(Frank Grillo), Lisa(the lovely and glowing Kiele Sanchez) is taking the unborn son of the man to San Francisco for the birth and for perhaps longer. This has been felt for several episodes. A woman trying to raise another kid around the maniac arena of MMA, drugs, drama, and constant pressure. Maybe getting away to SF is for the best. The aftershock of this decision make any optimistic twist in these final two hours a mere tease of happiness.
Lisa’s scene with Jay in the locker room is so well played by Sanchez and Tucker. She tries to make it okay in her mind that leaving won’t hurt him and as he shreds the pounds for a title fight, he insists that the little Kulina is top priority right now. Of all the men on this show right now, Jay is looking out the most for Lisa’s needs. The look Sanchez gives Jay spells out the pain she feels. Tucker, as charismatic as a wrecking ball with eyes, is excellent here. He’s a gifted dude.
ALICIA GETS A CAR AND SHAME
Remember that sweet and bitter thing? It’s best not to celebrate a new car from an energy drink company after winning an exhibition fight. Alicia gets the keys to a brand new Mustang and freaks out like it’s her sweet 16. Granted, she nearly got mugged in her sleep three hours ago, but still, on a cut day it’s best to smile, fist pump and go back inside. Mendez is so up and down it’s hard to know where her story is going. Nate(Nick Jonas) has to talk her down and tell her to respect the house. Lisa tells her to give the car back so she can actually get paid. Sweet. Bitter. Hand in hand.
CHRISTINA CLEANING UP OR GOING DOWN?
A week after watching Jay inject himself with heroin and seeing her world come crashing down, Christina needs her own place. An apartment looks great but with the competitive market(1700 per month for that!!) and her history, the chances of her getting the place are remote. So she tries to play the sexy and beauty part, only to be rebuffed by the realtor, who is an ugly despicable type but isn’t being rude with his requirements. Christina is an ex-junkie without much work stability. Escort service doesn’t look good on a past work slot even in 2015. When she goes to Alvey to co-sign, he turns her down. Without being able to look at Jay and getting denied, things are looking down for her. Way down.
RYAN SEEKS PEACE/DOESN’T GET IT
It’s cut day for Wheeler and he’s a bottle of nerves with a bent cap. Matt Lauria allows his expressions to do the heavy lifting in this episode. Pretty much every episode. Whether it’s him on a bike in the sauna trying to cut six pounds or talking to his dad about his latest condition or begging Keith to be quiet on fight day, Lauria needs the least amount of words to dominate a scene. When Lisa tells him she is leaving, what viewers thought was gone this season(his feelings for her) reawaken after they embrace. Lauria, clenching his face and neck like a sniper would pull on the hammer of his rifle, is the epitome of intensity. These actors know the only way to become these characters is to suck it ALL in. So good and well trained.
JAY GETS HIS SHOT
The colorful yet reckless Kulina has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. He’s watched his brother Nate get three fights and Ryan Wheeler carry a belt after leaving jail. He’s the guy at the party holding the keg for others to fill with beer. Now it’s his turn to get a taste. The man picked most likely to screw it all up is chomping at the bit and after finally cutting the weight and making 145, he climbs into the ring an angry man. Who cares who he is facing but there is a belt at stake and a shot at redemption for a man as reckless as he is talented. Seeing Tucker whisk through a warmup to the underrated whiskey drunk sounds of Spottiswoode’s “Blaze of Glory” is so well done and taunt. Instead of leveling the audience with hard rock or metal, Creator Byron Balasco has the confidence to toss an acoustic misery track into the pre-fight mix reel. Bless you, o’bearded one.
What happens? After nearly tapping out in the first round, Jay takes Alvey’s advice and knocks his challenger out with a cold knee to the jaw. He’s a champion. Finally. The emotion between Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker in this scene is so genuine you forget there are cameras around. Kingdom has a way of pulling you in so close that the stink, sweat and grit from these characters rubs off on you. It doesn’t fake a thing. Alvey told him he would fail and Jay proved him wrong. The entire time, the joker grin on Tucker’s face tells the entire story and Alvey just eats it. His son is a champion. Alvey is shellshocked that it’s Jay and not Nate. How life deals your cards is only half the battle friendos. Gotta take em and fight.
Sweet and the bitter. While Jay was warming up before the fight, Christina, at the end of her rope, was prepping to a dose of heroin. A big dose. A song played in my head. Sweet Child O’Mine. Any TV fan knew what was coming. She was going to OD while Jay fought for the title. The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter. The devil is a block behind happiness at all times. Jay tries to call his mom after the win and gets nothing. Back at home, the camera pans to a lifeless Christina right before the end credits roll.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the boat to be rocked. Jay will most likely blame Alvey for not helping his mom but as the old lion said, she does this to herself. It’s a cycle for addicts. They fall into bad habits, rely on easy shortcuts and eventually slam into a brick wall of adversity. They are a stinky pair of underwear to society. None of this matters to Jay. She’s his mother. He won the belt but lost his mother. All in one hour. That’s life. As Rocky Balboa urged his kid, nobody hits harder than life.
~Adored the rambling about cold vacations, good food and big boobs between Ryan and Jay in the sauna. Comic relief.
~Poor Keith doesn’t understand sports. You can’t talk to a pitcher on his day to throw. Same for fighters.
~MVP this season goes to Kiele Sanchez. She is REALLY pregnant and handling all these kids. Did I mention she is gorgeous? Wow. Remember when she fought Milla Jovavich in The Perfect Getaway? She was Timothy Olyphant’s girlfriend in that film. Olyphant would go on to play Raylan Givens in Justified and have a showdown with Tucker’s Boon in the season finale. Sanchez also starred in Purge: Anarchy with Grillo. World just shrunk a bit. Love you Kiele.
~Thank you Joanna Going for being a force of nature as Christina. You were a storm cloud, pocket of light and loose cannon all in one. What a performance.
~What happens in Wheeler’s fight? He has to win because a title fight with Jay would be the driving force behind Season 3. Right? We shall see.
Unwrap your hands, take a lap and see you next week for the Kingdom Season 2 finale.
“Guys like me don’t get rich. They get by with bloody knuckles.”-Alvey Kulina
When episode 208 of Kingdom opens, Alvey Kulina(Frank Grillo) is talking to his shrink but he could just be talking to himself in a mirror. At some point in life, we figure out that we are who we are. Nothing is changing. A person can’t be rewired to act differently. Alvey is faced with these facts as Lisa has been gone for weeks, staying in her dad’s condo with the pregnancy entering its final stages. What is a fighter when everything outside the ring has been taken away. He has his fists and need to impose his will on whoever comes into his path. Luckily this week, Alvey has Alicia(Natalie Martinez) to train and prepare for her big exhibition fight.
Alicia’s big debut was just one of many big moments this week on Kingdom. With every hour that passes by, creator Byron Balasco seems to be loading up for the big punch and in this hour, he unleashes a deadly hook to viewers with the Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker)/Christina(Joanna Going) story line.
The Jay/Christina subplot has been simmering since late season 1 when the kid pulled his mom off the streets and cleaned her up. Their relationship is built on a foundation of trust but what happens when that trust is betrayed. Christina quit her job at Patty Palace weeks ago and hasn’t told Jay. She also hasn’t told him that she is working as an escort again. She also hasn’t let him in on the whopper of a revelation that she is using drugs again, shooting heroin into her foot. When Jay and Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria) are having their day off party, Mac(Mac Brandt) tells the wild Kulina to go get some food and why not grab some burgers from a place where your mom works.(Not that Jamal would have allowed free food to leave that joint). When Jay catches up with the audience and goes back to the house to find the hidden drugs Christina has stashed, the Jonathan Tucker show takes over. Allow me to explain…
TV shows with ensemble casts rarely find time to showcase each and every member of their cast. Kingdom executes this to perfection. Every actor feels lived in, real and breathing. There are no caricatures on Navy Street and this climatic moment proves it. Tucker is a live wire entertainer with more speeds than most actors. He can be a sinner, saint, and joker all inside one take. However, we’ve never seen him dig this deep. He starts the episode out giving a tense Alicia a massage, nearly hurts Ryan in the ring, and helps wrestle a depressed and philandering Nate(Nick Jonas, swollen emotionally and physically for perhaps the entire season) out of bed for a little party. He’s happy on the outside but quietly waging war on himself on the inside, trying to make weight for a big fight, stay out of trouble and enjoy himself while being lovestruck. However, the Christina betrayal sets something off inside him. An explosion. The look in Jay’s eyes as he desperately asks everyone to leave his house so he can deal with his mother is heartbreaking and brilliantly played.
The Scene of the Year! Tucker and Going are masterful in this scene. She comes home to a quiet house where Jay is waiting. Here, the audience thinks he will just bitch her out and take her to rehab. Like every other fucking show on television. He does her seven steps worse. He is going to shoot himself with drugs and flip the script. Instead of him cleaning up her mess, she will have to care for him as he is under the influence of one of the deadliest drugs on the market. You may see Jay and friends snort cocaine like its going out of style, but shooting drugs into your system is where the overdoses happen and serious damage occur. Jay knows this and punishes Christina by hurting himself. He is taking the beast that stalks his mom around and taking it for a ride. This is the scene of the year for me. So far.
Why Do You Fight? Elsewhere on Navy Street as the Kulina’s deal with internal infrastructure maintenance, Alicia is losing it before her big fight. After a training session with Alvey that reveals a back injury and a walk along Venice Beach that reveals the lack of drive Alicia has for stepping into the ring. In order to truly be great in MMA or Boxing, you have to want it and be able to pinpoint the exact reason why. You don’t get punched in the face in order to pay the bills. In the Grillo Greatness moment of the week, he tells Alicia he fights because he likes to hurt people, beating them up and stealing their identity. The only thing missing from Grillo’s speech as Daniel Day Lewis’ legendary milk shake line from There Will Be Blood. Alvey knows why. Jay and Ryan know why they fight. Nate and Alicia….they don’t. Not yet.
Before it’s time to take the ring, Alicia is really losing it. She is crying. Exhibition or not, the nerves before a fight are unique. It’s not like getting into a fight on a street. That’s all instinct. Fighting for a living is like seeing the bully in the first class at school and telling them you will fight after school. For the next six hours, you boil inside and figure all the possible outcomes. That is Alicia. She has rage, talent and potential but once you climb into the ring, as Alvey said at the top of the hour, it’s you all alone in this world.
After a little Alvey pushing, Alicia climbs into the ring. I’ve said before Grillo says fuck better than any actor out there, including DeNiro. Well, watch the locker room scene between him and Martinez and you will get his best impression of DeNiro. When Alicia says she can’t do it, Grillo cocks his head, turns it and delivers the best Bobby D impression, intentional or not. It’s beautiful. Go watch it again and come back here to finish the cap.
Alicia doesn’t just win the fight. She destroys the other woman. Martinez’s authenticity, like Grillo’s. shines through here. A kickboxer in real life who moves like a ninja with swag and attitude, she survives a tough first round and is born inside the octagon. When she scores the takedown of a lifetime and pounds on her opponent before Joe Daddy calls it, everything changes. She has an endorsement deal, a future in fighting and apparently no need for Ryan Wheeler shenanigans any longer. After the fight, she tells a drunk drugged up yet alert Wheeler that it’s over.
The dudes on this show aren’t having a good season my friends.
What else happened?
~In the Keith moment of the week, he catches a pair of pool side kids playing TMZ hawks, recording Ryan have some fun with cocaine. He catches them and tosses the phone. He may not be put together like everybody else, but Keith is a useful guy when it comes to avocado farms, drinking, and paparazzi.
~Lisa’s pregnancy hits a wall when she has to go in for extra tests to see if there is a concern with the baby. She misses Alicia’s fight but leaves Alvey a message that it is a boy and that the Maker of Men has struck again. There’s hope for these two yet.
~Wheeler goes off about Alvey devoting a whole day to Alicia and while it may seem like nothing, this may come into play later with the result of Ryan’s fight. There’s a simmering boil inside Lauria during every episode that is set to explode but let me tell you it won’t be a gym mirror he damages this time.
~Every episode features a Grillo training session. Forget Billy Blanks and any other trainer you can find. Just watch Grillo work. He’s trained in gyms of all kinds and lives and breathes this environment like a second layer of skin. He’s a joy to watch.
There are two hours left ladies and gents. Fireworks have gone off but more await. Are you ready? With success comes a heightened state of desire. Will it burn down the Kulina bridge? December will reveal it all. There are no winter breaks on Kingdom. It is coming at you every week. If you are behind, catch up on Itunes, Amazon, Audience on demand or Uverse on demand. Do it. Think later. Just watch.
Every obsession with a TV show starts with a plunge. There are shows you watch and like, but do other stuff while it plays. There are shows that captivate you for the entire hour. I watched this hour of Kingdom in one prolonged death stare. My phone, a dark room, an open window and a lack of fluids. After every hour, I work out. This show will make you want to work out, hit something or show passion. It connects. Try it out.
Come back next week for more Kingdom talk.
This isn’t a review. This isn’t a recap. It’s both mixed with knuckle rocks, sprinkles of fist and something different. Shaken, stirred and kicked. My take on Kingdom, Season 2, Episode 6 on Direct TV’s Audience network.
Remember what I said about Sean Chapas(Mark Consuelos, owner of the devilish smile) being a human torch for Alvey(Frank Grillo) and his world? It’s getting more true every hour. First, they get reacquainted and have a drink. Then, they get into business together. Sean starts showing up to the gym and parking in Alvey’s spot, talking to the women there and showing zero respect for the man’s world. This isn’t an old friend wanting to reconnect. This is a guy who wants to come into a man’s life and rock the ship. Does it have something to do with how Sean and Alvey lost contact? Is it something else? To me, it’s true animals in a cage and that cage is life.
Alvey looks at Chapas as the guy he could have turned into if Lisa hadn’t walked into his life and presented balance. On the surface, this guy is killing it. He has a few cars, two phones, lots of cash, free time and businesses. An ex-fighter doing well outside of a cage. To Alvey, it’s an alternate universe that he doesn’t understand but can’t resist getting sucked into. Maybe it’s the fact everything in his life is carrying turbulence and he has a pregnant wife at home looking at him funny. Maybe it’s hunger for what you don’t have.
It isn’t going to end well. After dinner and drinks, Chapas takes Alvey to a private club, a house full of beautiful women, paid sex, free drinks and the temptation of bad decisions. After escaping the clutches of a free round in the bed with a prostitute, Alvey is thrown the keys by Chapas and he drives them home in Sean’s muscle car. Suddenly, Sean gets all weird, touchy and forces Alvey to give him a shot to the nose. Two drunk men in a phone booth hissing at each other. A cop pulls them over and Alvey has a DWI charge and shit storm coming to his homefront. Is he becoming the beast or is he freeing the beast within? We all have one. It just depends if we let it see the light of day.
Alvey should have listened to Lisa that day. When asked if she read the retirement home investment package, Lisa said, “No. I just read the guy who gave it to you.” She is the smart one here. I love you Kiele Sanchez. A tower of strength and she doesn’t even have to throw a punch.
Elsewhere on Navy Street:
*Nate is still troubled, breaking a man’s arm in the cage during training for Fresno Gate. It doesn’t get any better than Grillo and Nick Jonas coming within a few inches of each other’s faces in the locker room spitting fire at each other. Nate wants to feel something and erase all the inner anguish he feels and Alvey wants to know why his son lacks the killer instinct. He has no idea that his youngest son is a closeted gay trying to make it in a world full of testosterone. A world where one mistake can fuck you up. Jonas has grown up on Navy Street, ladies and gents.
*Poor Jay. Love hurts, my wicked friend. Jonathan Tucker doesn’t hold back one single nuance in his performance. The expressions on Tucker’s face are ALMOST as good as the words that come running out of it. We all know Laura(Jessica Szohr, who could be why cavemen chiseled on walls) is hiding something that will snap Jay’s heart like a knee to the ribs. She is still seeing her ex, the lawyer whose house she is living in. She is afraid of poverty and will forgo real feelings to hold onto it. When we first saw Laura eyeing Jay in the park, she was blown away by how free he was. A person who lived by his own code. Laura doesn’t know that and only knows where the luxury in life is. Finally, Jay confronts the guy and gets Laura’s attention. They have it out. You’ve been a part of this conversation sometime in your life if you are a lover. She ends it. He broils. And the man is chewing on drugs because he can’t eat.
**Tucker acted the shit out of that final dialogue between him and Szohr. Fire on ice, ladies and gents!
*Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria, a furnace of emotions himself) has a lot going on. He is reconnecting with his dad while preparing for a new fight, trying to find money and keeping his friend Keith in good health. A full plate for an ex-con with a title belt defense coming up. He is also falling hard for Alicia(Natalie Martinez), having scratched off the “perform oral sex in a ring” accomplishment off his bucket list. Things are getting hot and heavy for the two of them, and since they are keeping it light, their sexual relationship carries the least amount of drama.
*Alicia learns the best unwritten lesson in fighterhood. Don’t sleep in your car overnight in an empty parking lot. When a fighter closes his or her eyes, they are as weak as an ordinary walking soul. She narrowly escaped a car jack to begin the episode, stabbing one guy and punching and kicking another. A broken window finally sets off the alarm for Alvey, who gives her a key to the gym to sleep there. While vying for sponsorship. Alicia shows poor Lisa all the female athlete gauntlet of emotions. She has no money, a shitload of angst and really needs to fight. She nearly walks away from the whole thing after the energy drink interview. She needs to fight and I have a feeling she will get it towards the end of season 2. Martinez, a kickboxer in real life when she isn’t playing make believe, is really giving this role a different feel. Like Laura and Tucker, she never allows you to feel comfortable with where these characters are going.
*Christina quits her job finally, taking no shit, two cheeseburgers and one last check out of Patty Palace. Fast food burger joints are a sign your life is dirty and worthless. I still think she is a problem child for this Kulina family. She isn’t “Chapas fire” but she is a problem. Without a job and sketching all alone is not good for Christina. Especially when her healer Jay doesn’t want to be around her anymore. What a family.
*A Mac Brandt sighting! So much character and not enough screen time to spread the Human Freckled Dartboard’s wealth.
What’s ahead? Fights. Hardship. Problems.
What will the DWI do to Alvey/Lisa and Alvey/Sean? That investment probably won’t pan out. Would you believe Chapas if he told you it was sunny outside? You would go to the window and check.
Will Jay’s love lost get in the way of his big fight? You only get one shot at the title?
Can Ryan put aside the distractions and win his fight?
Will Nate self destruct in Fresno?
Where can you find Kingdom merchandise? I got that answer. You can now own t-shirts, hoodies and sports bottles right here. Get some Kingdom fabric across your chest, ladies and gents.
Until next week, enjoy re-watching Kingdom on Audience. This reviewcap was brought to you by true bald headed Italian muscle grit.
Disclaimer: This isn’t not your standard “this is what happened and that’s it” recap. It isn’t a basic review. It’s my takeaways from it. Take it or leave it.
When-Wednesdays at 8pm central
Where-Direct TV/Audience/1114 on UVERSE HD
When it comes to fighting, “Be First” is the mentality. Be the first one to punch. Be the first one to react. Be the first one to decipher the other fighter’s code before you get popped. Episode 204 of Direct TV’s Kingdom rung the bell with another appearance from Sean Chapas, Alvey’s buddy from the past who showed up in the second week and immediately struck me as someone one could NOT trust.
Mark Consuelos looks like a decent enough guy. He’s smart, in good shape and seems like he wants to help the big lion of the Navy Street gym. He’s dropping pick me up tales about not worrying and seizing the moment, mentioning the big GOD and his effects in the process. He’s seems to have a button up pasted onto his body instead of wearing it. He’s snake and that’s why you can’t trust him. Somehow, he is going to hurt the Kulina and Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) is going to tell Alvey, “I told you so.”
We find Alvey spending time with Sean at one of his investment locations, a retirement home. Sean is giving Alvey a taste of a potential gold mine. It’s too bad the investment will cost Kulina 30,000 to get a share. The stock market is like tossing a hail mary blindfolded down the field. Something a fighter should invest in only if he is sure and isn’t dealing with a guy like Chapas. That’s TV for you. Imitation of life with more gasoline added in for good measure.
Nate is recovering from his knockout by rewatching it over and over again. Every fighter thinks they are invincible until they get knocked out cold. Afterwards, like a detective, they have to investigate what went wrong. He can’t seem to do anything in his house for long because his annoying as SHIT girlfriend comes in, rubs on him and tosses his phone away.
Let me admit something. Nate’s girlfriend, the sometimes drunk or stoned chick who won’t stop nagging, is a pain in the ass and doesn’t seem capable of understanding a fighter. Nate was chowing down on a burrito in week 2 and she whined about wanting the kid to go out, wedge down on chips and salsa and pay attention to her crap. The kid can’t catch a break and the girlfriend has to go. We will get to that later.
Jay is feeling upbeat as he strides into the house in the morning. He spent the night with Laura(Jessica Szohr) and feels like ten million bucks. A sad Christina mopes over a P&B sandwich before work. Jay wants to get her a new job, but she doesn’t care. Apparently, feeling sorry for yourself pays by the minute. She does perk up when asking for Laura’s number, but when he hears it, Jay has an alarm go off in his head. Christina wants my lovely new girlfriend’s number. Jonathan Tucker can do it a lot with a look. Mischief and contempt can be spelled with a single look. He knows it is a bad idea but he literally pulled this woman from the depths of drugs, hooking and sure handed misery. He gives it to her and the audience lights the match.
As she shops with Laura, Christina doesn’t feel right. Here is this new woman in her son’s life filling her cart up with art supplies and she feels weird. Only one thing can happen. The mother of men spills her entire story to Laura. The drugs, the abandonment of the kids and probably more. The look on Laura’s face doesn’t read, “Oh that’s okay, I’m just a lovable photographer who craves drama.” This girl doesn’t want a side of difficult with her slice of man. Her face spells duck and run.
When she stops returning Jay’s calls and texts, he wants to know what happened but won’t say it out loud. Maybe he doesn’t know. When he confronts Laura later as she is trying to leave for a party, she gives him all the answers he needs without using words. His mom spooked her and she is backing off. Who else uses the phone died excuse? They do know when phones recharge all those texts and voicemails come back on. Everybody on the show has IPhones. Steve Jobs ain’t fucking around people. This is sad for Jay.
Earlier in the day, Alvey asked him to either wait a fight or get skinny like Adrian Brody for his next fight if he will allow Ryan Wheeler to fight him. I’ll be clear. Alvey isn’t worried about Jay losing. He is worried about Ryan losing. If Ryan loses, the humpback whale money maker of the future dies a little. Here is a guy buying new trucks, new guns and thinking about kicking 30K to a business endeavor that may not pan out.
The great thing about Creator Byron Balasco’s characters are they seem like people we’ve seen on TV before, but there is always a wrinkle to their actions. They aren’t imperfect, screwed up and capable of acting like a fireball in a forest.
Speaking of Wheeler, he is doing more than flirting with the new female fighter, Alicia Mendez(Natalie Martinez). He trains with her in the ring, getting into positions that you won’t see two people commit to at Starbucks or Panera. Later on in the sauna, she pretty much strips down in front of him. The signs have been on for hours. These two will have some sex and good for them. It’s nice to see two people carry out the simple pleasure of conversation and sex. They are fighters, lonely people and in need. A simple story. Lisa may not like it but she has a baby inside her so she can’t stay mad for long at her ex-boyfriend and new fighter banging.
Poor Keith. The guy can’t shop in the grocery store, look at an avocado straight or hold his hard liquor. If anyone needs to get laid, it’s Keith. Paul Walker Hauser doesn’t get to participate in the fight scenes(nah, he just kills his enemies in the kitchen) but he is a fine actor and someone who doesn’t ask for your sympathy. He earns it. What looked like a simple plot device to get Ryan acquainted with someone from the outside has blossomed into a real friendship and one with complications. He’s still a liability but a necessary outside the ring distraction for the audience. Hauser really nails this role.
There’s an interesting exchange between Alvey and Lisa. She finds out earlier in the episode that the baby is a boy and the look of quiet resignation on her face peels the layers off her discomfort in Season 2. If any prospective mother needed a baby girl to quiet the storms of testosterone, it was Lisa. She won’t get that, because as her man tells her, he is “a maker of men”. Poor Lisa. Sad deals for her and Jay this episode.
Nate fails his exam with the doctor and isn’t cleared to fight. When he tells Alvey he is, the old man doesn’t believe him for a second. The more I think about this kid’s fight, I think the only place he feels peace with who he is comes inside the ring. I never listened to a single Jonas Brothers song but I think that is helping me appreciate Nick’s acting that much more. Here is a kid who was forced to be a star before he was 10 years old and has been riding that wave for so long that becoming something like Nate seemed like a far fetched idea. After 14 episodes, he has carved out an identity on this show. Every episode, we get to know him more and more.
So when the bomb is dropped and his annoying girlfriend finds some male pics and videos on his phone, we are almost happy for the kid as he is berated in the gym. Someone knows his secret, but that revelation may be the best thing that happens to him down the road. It could have been I just hated his girlfriend and glad she is finally moving out. I don’t know.
At the end, we see Alvey calling Chapas in for whiskey and bad decisions. It isn’t the idea that investing in retirement homes is a bad play. People are old and most need a place to spend the final days of their lives. I just can’t think of a good outcome with Alvey going in business with his old friend, who has a shit eating grin, is reconnecting with Alvey and seems to be bringing in dark clouds. When the guns come up in the conversation, I am assured of something. Kulina firing those weapons in the first scene of the premiere was a sign that down the road he will need that firepower to rid some poison from his life.
Alvey has a pregnant girlfriend. Two healthy kids. A champion fighter. A thriving training career. A gym. A motorcycle and truck. A trio of guns. He has it all. Why is he inviting more into his life? When does a fighter who can no longer fight feel whole? Probably never.
Things get real interesting when Jay tells Lisa that he wants the Wheeler fight, with or without Alvey’s approval. Shit is about to get real in this family and on this show. The next six hours will be hot.
What happens with the Jay/Christina/Laura tripod of doom?
Will Ryan’s rendezvous with Alicia have consequences?
Will Lisa ever smile again?
Is Alvey making too many plays?
Will Nate find peace if he can’t fight?
Will Jay fight Wheeler?
Answers come in the following weeks. Until then, I suggest rope work, a few laps and a bag to hit.
Thanks for reading this unqualified review.
Where-Direct TV on Audience/UVerse
When-Wednesday at 8pm(central time)
*This is not a standard recap or a traditional review. I don’t follow the TV critic playbook. Let’s just call this a reviewcap.
Simulations, round two of this 10 round season of Byron Balasco’s authentic slice of fighter pulp unveiled new faces, hardships and a future that looks anything yet certain. If Season 1 closed with a flourish of victory and Season 2’s opening hour showed some greener leaves in the Kulina family tree, episode 202 reminded the audience that with great things comes a whole new kind of heartache and worry.
It was a kick to the balls that Alvey Kulina(the true tough guy Frank Grillo) found out his prize fighter Ryan Wheeler tested positive for cocaine after his first title defense. It was a shot to the knee cap that Wheeler shorted him on his percentage. Six percent instead of ten! As Alvery told Ryan, who looks anything but stable, he is walking a thin line. Here is a guy who lost everything in a hail of violence and went to jail. He lost his career, his family and the chance to be looked at normally for the rest of his life. He’s out, and after damaging gyms, tempting fate with Alvey’s wife Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) last season, he barely wins his fight and was on drugs. Now he shorts Alvey. Next, we see him buying an expensive couch.
Oh, and there is the investigation into the fruit lovemaking teddy bear BFF’ing Keith, the roommate of Ryan’s who stabbed his bully to death. Wheeler has a full plate but if he pisses on Alvey’s cereal any longer, his world will became a true house of pain.
Alvey and Lisa are looking into all kinds of revenue streams, and that includes time share tutorials to a room full of people who don’t want to be there. Yes, Alvey is helping people “fight” their way through their careers because when a muscle bound fast talking guy is telling you how to live your life, nothing can go wrong. It doesn’t go over too well, with 24 of the 25 walking out. This, ladies and gents, is the life of a fighter after he leaves the ring.
Nate(Nick Jonas) is training for his big fight but doesn’t know who he is or wants to be. In an expansive interview to promote his upcoming bout, the youngest Kulina opens his soul about the true meaning of fighting. How it shapes you and breaks you without ever truly fulfilling your hunger? It was impressive and for the audience, a small cry of help from the kid. His annoying girlfriend(whom is merely a friend who wants to kiss him for Nate) does him no favors. Complaining about the kid eating his post workout meal or passing out in the bathroom wasted. This kid needs a cottage, the ocean and some quiet but it won’t come.
Jay(the live wire Mr. Jonathan Tucker) is training on the beach when a beautiful photographer Laura Melvin(newcomer Jessica Szohr) starts snapping photos of him. She doesn’t just want the image. She wants the story and after a quick lunch of drinks, invites the exuberant Kulina to a dinner date. What starts as a potential modeling gig turns into sex, as Jay finds a woman that isn’t just interested in his body but wants to know what makes him tick. For Tucker’s Jay, this is new territory. Season 1 saw Jay regaining a pulse in his career and helping his mother get clean while giving the show a much needed sense of humor. Now, he has a woman walk into his life that is sexy, demanding, powerful and doesn’t just want a bed romp. Could this be what Jay needs or potential hazardous white hot love boat building? Time will tell but let’s hope the Greek fortress of Jay Kulina finds a fight soon because something to hit, what is a Kulina male?
Alvey finds out that the private number calls he’s been receiving come from an old friend Chapas(Mark Consuelos). Chapas is a former fighter and an alley way from Alvey’s past. I’ll just come out and say that this isn’t going to end well. Chapas may look like a nice caring friend(how about that inspirational chat about Lisa!?) but he’s human gasoline. Ready to set fire to Alvey’s life and everything in it. His intentions aren’t laid out yet but the minute he created that shit eating grin, doom set in for me. He will probably partner with the gym, add revenue and seemingly good will, but it will go to shit. If you were paying attention after Season 2’s premiere, Alvey threatens to kill him. I am sure that isn’t over the drink choice Chapas made. He will be a thorn in this family’s side.
While Jay is getting love and Nate is pumping weights because staring at pictures of hot guys next to his passed out girlfriend may be odd, Ryan is pleasuring himself with some late night porn before a mysterious call comes in. Who is that? What will set the course for this rejuvenated yet still misguided creature of habit? The only problem with bringing Wheeler back into the fight world was you ripped all the band-aids off his old life wounds. All of it came rushing back and it started with him getting back into the ring. Trouble awaits.
Alicia Mendez(Natalie Martinez) is getting more comfortable in her new gym and looks to Ryan for advice. Lisa seeing that this is potential doom with her newest fighter tries to talk her down from getting to know Ryan even though the audience knows the two will be kissing before Episode 4. If Alvey is in the trenches fighting for everything, Lisa is the navigator watching over everything. She is the woman who has to pick up the spilled box of matches before they light on fire.
No Christina or Mac this episode which is fine with the new faces rolling in and the plot of Season 2 starting to develop.
What powers Balasco’s show is the authenticity of everything you see. The gyms. The rings. The performances. The locations. So many shows phone in parts of a production and thus lose the allure that makes people stay. Like most shows like don’t exist on NBC or FOX and actually have a pair of balls attached to its body, Kingdom feels like a ten hour movie. For the cast, it’s a ten hour fight and for the audience, it’s a ride unlike anything you have seen. That is due in part because Grillo embodies Alvey with every ounce of grit he can find. Tucker doesn’t just make Jay a joker but a man with so much to find. Matt Lauria doesn’t just play cold and quiet with Wheeler. With every facial expression and word, he teaches you what real pain is like. What does it feel like to live with a monster inside you who is never full.
Let me ask you something. What other show dares to touch a boxing or MMA ring and actually make the story outside of it more compelling than the one inside it? Creators are scared of that. They don’t know how to accurately depict that so they create another terrorism show or reality skit. It’s sad and depressing. Kingdom allows you to crawl inside the minds of these fighters as they figure out how to live before and after success.
If Season 1 was about the recapturing of glory, Season 2 will detail how you can lose it all.
Stay tuned for more weekly recaps of this show. In the mean time, go on Itunes and watch Season 1 so you know what the fuck I am talking about here.
If you want to catch up and actually understand what I am blabbering about here, catch up with Season 1 and stay in tune with Season 2, whether you have Direct TV, Uverse or not. The release of Kingdom on digital media launched this week. Find out all about it here.
Photos courtesy of Direct TV Audience/Kingdom
Every TV show has to have a hook in order to get your attention.
There’s simply too much on the tube these days to simply be good on the surface and get people to reserve a room in their world of make believe. Well, Direct TV’s hit series, Kingdom, will get you in the door and make you want to stay for a long time with its balanced concoction of fists, heart, blood and the family ties that tie them together and tear them apart the next day. The creator and executive producer, Byron Balasco, has always been a fan of the MMA arena and its inhabitants, but he wanted to make something more than just a show about fighting. What do these guys go home to and how much fuel does a single fight give somebody?
I came onto Kingdom due to my “watch anything with Frank Grillo in it” natural law, so when he mentioned a little MMA show called Kingdom in a 2014 conversation, I had to give it a look. Without Direct TV, I had to wait a year to watch but quickly consumed the 10 episodes and I strongly suggest you do as well.
This past week, I talked to Balasco over the phone about the raw power of Season 1 and what to expect when Season 2 premieres on October 14th.
Dan Buffa-What made you want to get into the world of MMA?
Byron Balasco-I’ve been a fan of the sport for many years even before it became what it is now. It was so interesting to see people get in a cage and fight for a living. The more I knew these people, the more interesting it became. As a writer, you are always looking for great worlds to set your characters in. Finding the best places to tell these stories. MMA seemed to be rife with opportunity. It’s a subject matter that doesn’t get a lot of networks excited because they feel it’s a world they know little about. It’s marketed as this hyper aggressive meat headed sort of stuff, and while it’s got some of that, these are real people with real lives with families. Instead of pitching the idea, I just wrote it myself so I could show them what it could be in the best way possible. Its a character drama. Endemol got a hold of it and understood it and were passionate about it. Direct TV jumped in for 10 episodes and we were off.
Buffa-I feel like you really lay your stamp on it with these hardened, dirty, flawed characters that we don’t see much around television. These are honest, real and imperfect people. I really liked that.
Balasco-That is the thing. What they are struggling with is what everybody deals with in their lives. However, I wanted to represent that world so sometimes they are a little more aggressive about it. They are more extreme. Writing them honestly and our cast is committed to playing it honestly makes it work. They give it that lived in feeling. You buy into these people.
Buffa-How important is Frank Grillo to this show? He seems to be the captain of that ship.
Balasco-He was the first one I brought on. The first piece of casting. Part of getting the show going was finding our Alvey. Frank’s name kept popping up to me. He was the first person I thought of. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do television but he read the script and we did a skype and within 20 seconds, we knew this was going to happen. He knows the world so intimately and he’s been doing it for 25 years. He’s been boxing his whole life so we could speak that same language. The places where I wanted to take the character were in line with places he wanted to explore as an actor. We made a pact that if we were going to do this, let’s do this all out.
Buffa-When I talked to Grillo the first time, he told me about people calling him up to have him train them after they saw the film, Warrior. He’s so authentic. You don’t meet Frank’s every day.
Balasco-There’s never a false note when he’s on set. You don’t feel like it’s work. It just seems natural.
Buffa-One of the strong points of Kingdom is balancing the ring aspect and the family part of the story. Was that important to you?
Balasco-That was very important. You have to have some fighting because that’s the world they are in and the stakes they are facing, but if you do a fight every episode, it gets monotonous. If they want to watch a fight every episode, they’ll find a real fight to watch. I really wanted to tell a story about these people’s lives.
Buffa-Direct TV gave your show a two season(20 episode) pickup. Was that surprising and did that give you some freedom in mapping out your story?
Balasco-It was very exciting. I was in France at Cannes selling the show and got the call. As far as changing my approach, I can look a little ahead and lay things out differently. However, we do go season to season. We are not a big plot driven show. It’s about the characters, so each season is a chapter in their lives. This show lends itself to that kind of storytelling. Yes, its nice to know we have a little bit of time, but it doesn’t change the way we attack a season.
Buffa-This characters are intense with some very intense scenes. How do these actors get worked up? Is there red bull drinking challenge in a steam room or something?
Balasco-All of these guys train incredibly hard and consistently. They train with real fighters on our set keeping us real. We all are a family who loves each other so there is a camaraderie. There is also a competition among them as well. They are brothers. You love them but you don’t want to be the weak link. Everybody, including Kiele and Joanna, shows up wanting to kill it. Everybody really cares and lives in these roles so it lends a sense of authenticity. We are also open to discover stuff on set and I will make a change on set if it makes the scene feel more natural.
Buffa-The great TV shows always feel like a family driven operation and not just a job. You guys are getting down in the trenches to create something special.
Balasco-That’s exactly right. This cast has a lot of chemistry together so it comes out.
Buffa-Season 1 left characters in a seemingly successful if jaded position. Fights in the ring were won but maybe lost on the homefront. Where does Season 2 open things up at?
Balasco-Some time has passed. There has been some success and they are in a new gym but still hanging by a thread. It’s like “you get ten extra bucks but you spend ten extra bucks.” That struggle is still real. There have been some changes. Alvey and Lisa are still trying to make it work. I don’t want to give too much away. The theme of this next season is the painful ascent. With success, it doesn’t always drag everybody at the same pace. It changes the dynamics and awakens new tensions among people.
Buffa-Alvey was telling Lisa early on in Season 1 about the threat of expanding. When you have this little indie family gym, it’s hard but it is yours. With more money, you invite more snakes in the den.
Balasco-You wonder why you are doing it? That’s a big part of the show. It was in the first season and will be in every season that comes after it. You fight so hard and chase something and nothing changes. You still have to deal with yourself and relate to the people in your life.
Buffa-It’s like a drug. It’s satisfying but you are always left wanting more and feeling unsatisfied. As a writer, I have homework for life because it’s always about the next story I write.
Balasco-Always. I’m telling you. Every time I finish a script, I feel good for half a day and then I start thinking about the next one and how it has to be better than the last. It never ends.
Buffa-You’ve come onto something really special here and are the first show to truly tackle MMA. In the press notes, it says to go with the Ronda Rousey craze, in season 2, there is a female fighter joining the ring.
Balasco-Honestly, that was a little less a Ronda Rousey thing and really from the fact I spend a lot of time in gyms and there’s female fighters in every gym. I go up to Albuquerque with Craig Jackson and hang out with him a lot. He trains some of the best fighters in the world and has women in his gym all the time. We want to be authentic and be real to the world. To not do that was a big glaring hole in our roster. The trick was finding the right actress. I worked with Natalie Martinez from a show I did called Detroit 187. She is a fighter in real life and can kick ass in real life. We have a great fight with her this season and she put everything into it. It pumped up the guys seeing her in it.
People can watch and enjoy a TV show but if you want people to love your show and talk about it in the street, at the gym, in restaurants and around the bars, it has to be authentic. In order to be authentic, the creator, crew and everybody involved must care about what they are doing. It’s their faces, heart and souls out there. Balasco, directors Gary Fleder and Michael Morris among others, the writers along with Grillo, Jonathan Tucker, Matt Lauria, Kiele Sanchez, Joanna Going, Nick Jonas, Mac Brandt and anybody else getting punched all care about making this show perfect. They sink all they have into it. It starts and ends with Balasco, the guy who wanted to put a unique twist on television and the world of MMA. He’s done other shows like Without a Trace and Huff, but Kingdom is his domain and that is felt in every scene of this show.
The second season premieres on October 14th, so you have plenty of time to watch the 10 episodes from season 1, join a gym, start punching things and get pumped up about season 2. It’s not just television. It’s a slice of life that combines the brutality of the ring with the fierce battlefield of a home.
Wrap your hands and head to Itunes, ladies and gents! Come October 14th, watch this show. If you don’t have Direct TV, make friends with someone who does, even if their apartment sucks and they are annoying.
“Every man will whisper to themselves at some point. Am I one of the weak or one of the strong?”-Alvey Kulina
In life, all men know and understand that they reside in a kingdom. They spend their entire life wondering where in that kingdom they belong. Down with the peasants. Cleaning up the streets. Defending with a sword in their hand. Hiding inside their home. Do they belong next to the throne or in the crowd watching the king? That follows all of us around every day.
Creator Byron Balasco(Without A Trace, Huff) didn’t just bring us a show about MMA and its fighters. This show is special because it stretches outside the octagon and into an uglier harder to depict fight in our life. The dysfunctional aspect of family. Nobody hits harder than your own family and the way they look at you. A stranger can punch you in the face 10 times but if a brother looks at you like something lesser than a man, the effect is shattering. The training, fight scenes and testosterone ballet in Direct TV’s Kingdom is fine seasoning and will keep you away, but the powerful hard knock portrayal of inner demons, family rust and the dangers that await these characters outside the ring is what will spin in my head for weeks until the second season premiere on October 16th.
What’s so good about this show? Everything, but let me be more detailed and articulate for those of you who need more a brochure for your next TV show binge.
Frank Grillo, a man with Atlantic City going on inside the high arches of that Italian hair, was born to play Alvey Kulina, the patriarch of a family of MMA fighters. Grillo is a 50 year renegade hitting his stride after years of hard work stealing scenes from stars like Liam Neeson, Tom Hardy and Jason Statham. Grillo sinks every ounce of himself into Alvey, a former fighter who is hanging on to life by investing his time as a trainer and mentor to his sons. Everything about Grillo is authentic and Balasco hangs the show on his shoulders, and the man doesn’t disappoint. You may feel like you know Alvey after a few episodes but by the 9th hour, every picture you have drawn will be tossed because he’s unpredictable and vulnerable in ways most tough guys are not on television.
If Grillo helps shape the soul of the show, Kiele Sanchez(who co-starred with Grillo in The Purge: Anarchy) is the heart of the show as Lisa Prince, Alvey’s woman and Achilles heel. Sanchez isn’t a name you will know before the show, but after you watch episode 10, she will be an actress to remember. Sanchez isn’t intimidated by the male dominated cast. She’s the Queen that nobody wants to push aside. In the same vein as Alvey, viewers will think they have seen Lisa and her arc before as the show opens up innocently, but things soon spiral out of control and that allows Sanchez to have some fun with Lisa.
Matt Lauria is a cracked glass of rage as Ryan Wheeler, a former champion who gets released from prison and has to deal with all his demons like they are residents in a house he can’t sell. He reconnects with Alvey, a man he respects but also a man who is with the woman he loves in Lisa. Kingdom does “messy” like no other show. Lauria never lets you get too close to Ryan, a violent man with enough rage to fill six rings of sorrow. This show balances itself on the tripod of lust with Alvey, Ryan and Lisa trading blows hour by hour.
Let me say something. I love Jonathan Tucker. Everything about the actor appeals to me. He has so many speeds the man is like a human treadmill. Comedy. Action. Romance. Wildness. Wacky. Heartfelt. Tragic. Tucker can play them all. I’ve loved Tucker since his work in the short run of NBC’s Black Donnelly’s. He squared off with Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens on Justified earlier this year but his work as Jay Kulina will demolish everything he has stepped foot in before. Tucker unfolds here as a man who has snorted every drug and burned every bridge but seems like the most well adjusted “right where I need to be” person on the show. Tucker is a live firecracker as Jay, a fighter on the comeback trail.
What do you think of Nick Jonas? He sing and girls love him. Well, toss that out the window. Whatever the answer is, prepare to rethink it as he tackles the role of Alvey’s youngest son, Nate. This kid was the last person on my list of “I hope to see him in a physical fighting role sometime soon” but as the moral of the show pertains, forget about pre-conceived notions. Jonas is a quiet ball of fury here as a kid who doesn’t know what he wants but knows that breathing keeps all options open. Nate Kulina is the youngest but he is also the most responsible person on the show. Nick Jonas is going to blow you away and it looks effortless.
Mac Brandt does great work here as the fighter and drug pharmacy to the Kulina family. The “Freckled Dart Board” doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as the majority of the cast but puts it all to good use. He makes you want to see more of him. The wolf has some juice here. Also putting in fine work is Joanna Going, the “wife” and mother of the Kulina boys. You won’t know whether you should love or hate Going’s Christina, but the ride doesn’t stop hitting bumps until the final moments of the Season 1 finale. The trademark of this cast is deception. Right when you measure them for an overhand right located for your forehead, you don’t see the uppercut smashing you in the ribs.
Balasco has crafted a show that looks simple on the surface but breathes like a stoked fire with intensity. The Kulina’s gym, Navy Street, is on the fringe with bills and staying open. Jay and Nate are trying to establish themselves in the fight world and Ryan is reestablishing his ring persona while fighting all the urges outside of it. All the while, Alvey and Lisa seem to fighting the ugliest part of life. Cutting strings with the past and trusting the future. The actors may look gorgeous but their characters are all broken piles of glass. Speaking of glass, Lauria’s rage filled moment at the gym is so harrowing and out of control that I felt like smashing a mirror just to see if I got the same rush. Kingdom makes you want to hit a bag until your knuckles bleed. It’s workout video, graphic novel and poetic speech about identity that you won’t see coming.
Grillo is the bottle cap that’s ready to pop. You watch him and you see an actor who pulls pages of dialogue and looks from his bones. He’s the most authentic fighter you will see on any sized screen in 2015 and beyond. A man who has finally found a role fit for his amount of rage, charisma and stature as a true tough guy with a poker deck full of secrets.
What makes Kingdom different? The visceral punch that it hits you with and the way it defies normal TV family drama. This show is a pit bull with teeth, heart, and soul to make your time spent with it seem justified but required.
As Mac Brandt would say, “show some self respect” and watch Kingdom. Season 2 starts in a week.